The FBI said yesterday that it arrested eight people who were plotting to assassinate Honduran President Roberto Suazo Cordova and take over the government of Honduras, the closest U.S. ally in Central America.
FBI Director William H. Webster said an undercover FBI agent had infiltrated the assassination plot, which he said included a Honduran general and two Honduran businessmen living in Miami.
The FBI has seized about $10 million worth of cocaine that the suspects were to use to pay for explosives, tanks, airplanes, night-vision equipment and other military weapons to be used in the attempted takeover, Webster said.
At least two of those charged yesterday are known to have close ties to Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, who was ousted as Honduran defense minister in a military coup March 31. However, there was no indication that Alvarez was involved in the alleged plot.
The FBI said Honduran Gen. Jose A. Bueso-Rosa, 47, the military attache at the Honduran Embassy in Chile, was among those named in a criminal complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Miami.
Bueso-Rosa was the armed forces chief of staff under Alvarez and was forced to resign at the time of Alvarez's ouster. The Honduran government announced yesterday it is instituting extradition proceedings against Bueso-Rosa and "all those who took part in this conspiracy."
The FBI also arrested Gerard Latchinian, 46, a Honduran citizen and international arms dealer known to have been involved in arms deals with the Honduran military under Alvarez. Latchinian, who now lives in Miami, was the presumed supplier of the weapons for the takeover.
Also arrested yesterday was Faiz J. Sikaffy, 49, a member of a prominent Honduran family who lost more than $7 million when the Honduran government nationalized his cement business, the FBI said. Sikaffy has been operating a seafood business in Florida.
The others arrested yesterday, the FBI said, were Latchinian's brother, Jerome, of Miami; Jose Zimmerman, a pilot from Vero Beach, Fla.; Manuel Binker, 48, of Miami; Robert Kurtz of North Pinellas Park, Fla.; Juan Roca, address unknown, and Alain Perez, address unknown.
Honduras has provided staging areas for U.S. surveillance flights over El Salvador and for U.S.-backed rebels who are trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. Major military exercises in Honduras have involved as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in the past year and are expected to resume after next week's election.
But younger Honduran military officers grew restive early last year at what they saw as excessive U.S. involvement in Honduran affairs, then orchestrated by Alvarez.
Alvarez was replaced by Gen. Walter Lopez, who has pushed the United States to renegotiate its mutual defense treaty with Honduras and to provide more economic aid.
Webster said the FBI learned of the scheme in July from a U.S. citizen and had an undercover agent join the plot as one of the "hit men." The agent was to be paid $300,000 to assassinate Suazo, $100,000 in advance. An FBI spokesman said one of those arrested in Miami had $100,000 in cash in his possession.
Webster said those arrested planned to take over the Honduran government between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15 during civil unrest that they expected to follow Suazo's assassination. The undercover agent and the would-be assassins were to make their way separately to Honduras, where they were to receive assistance from others involved in the plot, Webster said.
As part of the investigation, FBI agents seized about 760 pounds of cocaine from a remote airstrip in south Florida. The cocaine was flown into the United States last Sunday and was to finance the aborted plot, the FBI said.
Webster said that few officials were told of the probe, to minimize the danger to Suazo and the undercover agent. He said the Drug Enforcement Administration and the office of U.S. Attorney Stanley Marcus in Florida had assisted in the investigation.
The State Department said in a statement that the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, informed Suazo as soon as the FBI learned of the plot. The department said the case "again demonstrates the link between drug trafficking and international terrorism."
Honduran Embassy officials here said they had not been notified of the probe and would have no comment until they knew the details.
Washington Post staff writer Edward Cody, reporting from Miami, quoted diplomatic sources as saying that dissatisfaction has been growing in Honduras with Suazo's government. Most dissatisfaction centers on what the sources described as his use of the presidency to further the interests of his Liberal Party over the opposition's National Party, looking toward elections scheduled for November 1985.
This, combined with charges of corruption and mismanagement, has produced repeated discussions of a possible coup, these sources said. One diplomat said even his friends among left-leaning Hondurans have raised the possibility of a coup, suggesting that only the army could rectify what they considered intolerable drift and abuse.
"It's like a universal chorus out there," said one diplomat.
Fears also are widespread that Suazo, despite denials, intends to run for a second term as president. The 1982 constitution forbids a president from succeeding himself.
Suazo swore in a speech to Congress yesterday that he would "not vacillate one instant" in respecting these constitutional provisions.
The army, eager to maintain the integrity of Honduras' institutions, has refused to heed the coup suggestions as far as is known, the sources added. In addition, the officers who ousted Alvarez in March are known to oppose his return to power in the army, although they have announced that he is free to return from his home in Florida to live in Honduras.
Suazo, elected in November 1981, became the first democratically chosen leader in Honduras in more than a decade.